7 Myths and Educated Theories Behind Sitewide Links

SMS Text

Like with many other burning SEO questions, there is no definitive answer as to whether sitewide links are good or bad.

If we for just a second forget about search engines, we will see that, on the one hand, sitewides can be good for very important links (as users are much more likely to click them), besides they make the overall site template look more consistent (encouraging users to feel more secure).

On the other hand, because of them the site might lack diversity (getting bored with one and the same content throughout the site, the visitors might want to leave soon).

Now, when talking about SEO, the usage of sitewide links may also be highly controversial:

Do external sitewide links leak more PR?

The whole idea that external links hurt the site seems not completely right. While many SEOs will most probably argue my point here, I wouldn’t consider “PR leakage” as the major factor deciding whether sitewide links should be used or not.

I for one try to refrain from linking out using sitewides for the simple reason that these external links do not seem so important that I would want my visitors to click them by all means.

Do sitewide links count as one link or as many links?

Neither, I would say. They can’t be counted as one link as they come out from pages with different authority. At the same time they can’t be equal to the credit you get from multiple-domain links as that’s only one person / resource crediting your site instead of multiple webmasters / resources agreeing on its overall worthiness.

In general, I believe, Google distinguishes them as something very different from the both (recognizing template-based links). They definitely give some credit and aren’t completely worthless:

Sitewides, by their nature, go beyond editorial comment and suggest a special relationship between sites to Google.

Are external sitewide links worthless?

No (see the above). All in all, just like with reciprocal links, if your link profile includes a few solid sitewide inbound links along with other in-link types, that’s very good.

Are sitewide links counted equally to links from same-IP domains?

That would be to say that many sites on one IP are counted as one and the same website. In reality everything is much more complicated. Though no one is sure how exactly this works but I am pretty sure Google first makes sure that all sites on one IP belong to one person before starting to treat all out-links from all his sites as something less useful than many links from many sites.

Are multiple links from the same domain different from templated sitewide links?

Yes, definitely. Again, Google does recognize template-based elements and treat them differently.

Do sitewide links send a signal that the link(s) are purchased?

Yes, I believe, that’s one of multiple signals; thus, they will be seen as paid only if there are other signals (e.g. irrelevance) coming into play.

Do sitewide in-links automatically trigger Google penalty?

No, in this case, everyone would be penalized by now 🙂 Many factors (your site age; many “bad” sites linking in; the whole network of websites linking in, etc) should come into play. However the sudden spike in sitewide links may be one of the signals that your site is playing against the rules.

To put it smarter:

The overall health of the backlink profiles involved will make a big difference here.

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Scott Bowler

    Sitewide links can never hurt, but it is something that I am interested in seeing some experiments with! We will be launching a website in the next month or two which will have over 10,000 pages with a mandatory “web design by” at the bottom of each one.

    My plan is to have sitewide links for a few months, then switch to a single link on the homepage and see if it has any effect on how Google ranks us.

  • Scott Bowler

    I should probably add to the above point that the site is already out there – so it will be a relaunch so the results will be more relevant (there current PR is 6 and the majority of internal pages have PRs of 2-4)

  • andymurd

    @Scott Bowler – interesting, I hope you publish your findings.

    Another test you might try, is a single link on the homepage but every other page linking to a “designed by” page on the site itself, then link out from that page.

  • Scott Bowler


    Interesting idea – will put that into the test. I will be sure to publish the results – I really need to get a blog up and running on my website!

  • Doug Heil

    Scott wrote:

    “Sitewide links can never hurt, but it is something that I am interested in seeing some experiments with! We will be launching a website in the next month or two which will have over 10,000 pages with a mandatory “web design by” at the bottom of each one.”

    Very bad and very tactic/cheesy/and many other words I can think of.

    I pity your client who will be linking out to his website designer like this. Another word that comes to mind is Unprofessional. Both the client and the designer. Not to mention looking extremely bad to a quality search engine.

    Having outgoing links to other domains as “sitewides” is simply bad stuff. Period. I have never seen a good reason to do so that benefits anyone.

  • Doug Heil

    oops; That should be:

    very tacky/cheesy/

  • Scott Bowler

    Doug – have you looked at the bottom of this website?

  • Doug Heil

    Scott; oh sure. Noticed it a long time ago. Do you do things just because another site is doing them? I don’t. I think the bottom of this site is extremely cheesy as well. Believe me; I’m not the only one in this industry who feels the same way about “web design by” links. There is a place for everything; but sitewides in the footer are not that place.

  • Scott Bowler

    Let’s not hi-jack Ann’s post.

    I am open to debate and criticism, and it is an important topic to discuss whether sitewide links are valuable (or irrelevant/destructive etc) .

    To simply state that sitewide links are “bad stuff” without any empirical data or explanations of examples doesn’t help anyone.

  • Doug Heil


    Oh sorry; and here I thought her post about sitewide links. My bad. Her opinion and your opinion is that sometimes they are dandy. My opinion is that they are not dandy at all. Maybe i don’t know the meaning of hi-jack.

  • Amit

    I do think that site-wide links are bad and I have seen that most of the times the penalty comes with the drop in the toolbar PR as most of times google tend to categorize them as paid links.

    Please correct me If I am wrong.

  • Ann Smarty

    @Doug and @Scott, I see nothing wrong in one site crediting another site for web design… why not? a very well deserved link for very well done job. What’s bad in that? I am not Google but if I were, I wouldn’t punish anyone for that (unless, the site only have these types of links)…

  • Doug Heil

    Yes Ann; That is all nice and fine, but the fact is this; would you know the day that designer or that SEO who’s link you have on every page in the footer, gets involved in a large link network, and maybe doesn’t know it? Guilt by association comes to mind. I know many sites have both a separate “SEO by” link and a “design by” link. That’s TWO damn links in the footer on each page. That’s trouble just waiting to happen.

    Of course, it’s really no different than the many “blog farms” out there who all link to each other in the navigation menu. The SEO blog industry comes to mind. People truly don’t understand how bad that all looks. They just don’t see how nutty/cheesy/tacky it all looks to someone who is looking.

    Mary Jane just built a brand new donut shop in her town. Does she leave out the big o’l sign on her window saying “Building built by”? Oh yeah, she does if she was in fact paid for advertising the builder, by the builder. And yep; if that site owner is being paid big dollars by the firm who built the site, then sure, put the link in the footer with a nofollow tag. I kind of doubt these unsuspecting owners are being paid by their designer or SEO for the advertising though. They certainly don’t understand the risks involved with leaving up a designed by or SEO by link for an infinite amount of time.

  • Ann Smarty

    @Doug, I guess not everything is that straightforward. I don’t believe that footer link = bad, everything depends on the situation.

    Of course, there may be a bad implication. The site owner may be unaware of the link or of the risks or of the whole bad neighborhood thing. But not always…

    In your building example, Mary Jane and the shop owner may be good friends and she has built the shop for free and her friend may be so grateful that he put an advertisement on the building.

    Why do you always suspect the worst? If everything in the world were so straightforward, Googlers would have had much less work. But they do have to consider all possible effects and backgrounds – that does make the algo more vulnerable but they can’t do without that…

  • Doug Heil

    I wasn’t real clear. Mary Jane is the shop owner. Her builder put up the sign. She only leaves it up if the builder paid her for advertising.

    Like I stated prior; there is a place for everything. The footer is not the good place for these types of links…. especially on every darn page. Not good. Not good in most people’s minds. Is the owner getting paid for those footer links?… then that’s a different question. Most times they are not and are ignorant of the ramifications that may come from it.

  • Scott Bowler


    What if Mary Jane gets her donuts supplied by a well known and reputable donut maker? It can help to bring reassurance to her customers that the donuts are made using the finest ingredients. Reputation by association.

    I agree with you when you say sitewide links can be negative, especially with the examples you give.

  • SEO professional

    Please publish your final findings.
    You make it sound very promising.

  • SEOAly

    There are a number of blogs I read regularly, this one included, that include a sitewide blogroll. I’m guessing if there were any real “risk” involved in doing so, this site and the multitude of others with similar sitewide blogrolls would be suffering from some sort of “penalty”.

    Again, Doug Heil jumps on the “you guys are a bunch of idiots…” bandwagon without so much as a link to his site or a single blog post that provides any evidence or documentation to support his position.

    It’s not that you’re not entitled to your opinion, Doug, but you should certainly provide some sort of evidence that backs it up – otherwise a potentially valid point may be dismissed out of hand by those of us who require more than your personal opinion.

    It’s important to realize that there’s an enormous difference between “can be negative” and “is negative”. Not all sitewide links should be written off as “bad” until there is evidence to support that notion. It’s something I have intended to test to see what information I can glean in reference to the topic.

    @Scott Bowler – please do publish your findings. I’m very interested to learn of the ultimate outcome and some documentation, rather than speculation and opinion.

  • Scott Bowler

    @SEOAly – will do! I’ve finally started a blog (don’t ask me why it’s taken me so long to do so!) in preparation for it – I’ve changed the URL on my name which points to the blog for future reference)

  • Amit

    @ SeoAly – I have a question for you. So can’t Google can take these site wide links as paid links, most link brokers do that to make more money and so what is the margin to be on the safer side ?

    I would love to give a site wide link to my friends from my blogroll.

  • Ann Smarty

    @Amit, do that! sitewide blogroll is common fashion. If he is your friend and you do like his website, why not?

  • SEOAly

    @Amit – I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve not tested the theory for myself…so I can’t tell you with any certainty whether a blogroll can be misinterpreted by Google and result in a site being penalized.

    However, a number of blogs I read on a regular basis (including this one, sugarrae.com and ericlander.com) have sitewide blogrolls and those sites clearly don’t appear to be suffering from any kind of penalty.

    As noted in the post above, a link being sitewide doesn’t automatically mean that Google believes it to be “bad”. Moreover, I think Google is smart enough to use a number of different criteria to identify what they believe to be acceptable links vs. not acceptable links. Domain trust and relativity to the site you’re linking to likely weigh into that equation as well.

    The other factors are clearly subject to a great deal of speculation and debate…and Google doesn’t want Webmasters to have too many details on that subject. As we’ve all learned, it’s never a good idea to just “let Google figure it out…” (i.e. Dave Naylor).

    That said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend adding a blogroll and immediately throwing 10 or 20 links in it. That would almost certainly raise a red flag and result in Google taking a closer look to see if something shady is going on.

  • Amit

    Thank you so much Ann and SooAly, all my doubts are now cleared.

  • Matt Ridout

    Gosh Doug Heil strikes again!

    It’s a tactic with very few positive results in my experience, very old aswell.

    Single unique links will always count for more

  • Doug Heil

    What? LOL

    I gave my opinion in a couple of posts in here. If you all have never heard of being penalized because you were linking out to a bad neighborhood…. like a web designer gone bad with a link farm, etc, then I cannot help you one bit.

    If you don’t think that Google knows the SEO industry links to and fro from it’s buddies, and follows each blog to the next SEO blog where all the same darn links are, and on to the next and next…. and G does nothing about it? Come on now; use some common sense. Most penalities don’t occur where you may notice. Most trust or authority stuff is not something you can plainly see or hear or read. Most of the over 200 parts of an algo are not something you can put your finger on either considering that each part has different weights on one day to the next day or the next week, etc.

    Yeah; it almost seems like most of the SEO industry is lacking in good o’l common sense. yeah, I said it…… SO?

    Most things in this business do not have proof to show. Even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t post it in a blog. Do you ever hear a SEO proclaim they just got penalized and then proceed to tell you why they did? How about a SEO proclaiming they just got their client penalized? Very rarely, if at all. It happens guys/gals. It happens.

  • Pushkar Gaikwad

    Ann, about that wmw link, I would like to add that site authority and relevancy takes over precedence on factors like same IP and same host.

    If the sites are good, have authority and in googles eye, if they all fell in same bucket of catgory, there is nothing wrong in such kind of linking.

    I am writing this from personal experience, testing and from a friend who makes tons of money by interlinking his sites, though his suggestion/advice was to always link incontent in body and make them look natural.

  • Arnie

    My 2 cents: I believe Ann is right on in her post and her comments. Google absolutely knows the difference between a blogroll link and spammy footer links pointing to 6 different types of sites. Trust is at the core of the link value system.

    Not that Google is perfect, but they are pretty good at determining good links from bad links the vast majority of the time.

  • Rebecca Haden

    As always, it’s the Natural Look that makes the difference. I’ve been working together with another linkbuilder on a project recently, and it’s been eye-opening. She is in the habit of doing all kinds of things I consider shady, and which look to me completely unnatural. As we work, we see that my links drive traffic and hers don’t. From the client’s point of view, the overall improvement in rankings and PR could be coming from either one of us, but you can’t miss the difference in traffic results.

  • dealpocket

    Interesting post. Will try some.

  • cerebro

    very interesting

  • Xomero

    If your dessigner want a link back to their site you can set up a sigle link on the resources-links page on your site, in my opinion links on the footer with this propose must be penalized by google.

  • Chad

    The designed by or Powered By (or whatever ) will never get anyone penalized – just look at wordpress, vbulletin, Joomla etc…. It is a acceptable biz tag and only should also include a nofollow to be 100% compliant even with Google and to prevent any PR leak – the rest of the above childish back and forth is a pure waste of time – and Doug, get your own damn blog and quit trying to play SEO GOD on other peoples blogs – mannnn I just cant stand damn know it alls trying to stroke their own egos


    If your dessigner want a link back to their site you can set up a sigle link on the resources-links page on your site, in my opinion links on the footer with this propose must be penalized by google.

  • Sampath

    This is a very interesting discussion. My experience is site wide links work very successfully. Actually this is a very famous SEO myth. If google devalue site wide links you can easily climb up to the top of google by purchasing a massive amount of site wide links for your competitors.

  • Marcel

    I don’t have a links/resources page so added a link to a partner website in the footer of the home page, but only to that page, not wanting google to think they were paid links.


  • Jim Adams

    Hi Ann, nice to meet you. Thank you for the post. I've been contemplating adding a complimentary site or our parent company's site as it would be a great benefit to our audience. At the same time, I don't want to disrupt the space we're in now. Your post is helpful. Thanks.

    Jim Adams – CEO
    New Homes Directory .com

  • Jim Adams

    Hi Ann, nice to meet you. Thank you for the post. I've been contemplating adding a complimentary site or our parent company's site as it would be a great benefit to our audience. At the same time, I don't want to disrupt the space we're in now. Your post is helpful. Thanks.

    Jim Adams – CEO
    New Homes Directory .com